29 Aug 2011

Who gives a fig?

Walking past Civic Park yesterday I saw people protesting against the cutting of Fig Trees in Laman Street. I learnt later they were part of the Save Our Figs group and camped out overnight to pressure the City Council into stopping plans to cut down the fig trees.

The Council had planned to cut them down, apparently as a security measure, given that currently there is a risk of branches falling on people’s heads, particularly during stormy weather. However, the trees are beautiful and old, and Save Our Figs think there are better ways to ensure safety without destroying them.

Their pressure seems to have worked, as Lord Mayor John Tate served papers on the council's general manager last night, with a motion asking that the matter be sent back to the council.

It was signed by Greens councillor, Michael Osborne, and Labor's Sharon Claydon.
As a result, the contractors who were brought in to remove the trees have been asked to take no action for now.

This is an impressive example of civic action and political responsibility. I guess the real test will come in the long-term. Administrations have more resources and time than individuals to go back to an issue again and again over a number of months, and many battles are lost that way but hopefully that won’t be the case this time.

Back in my hometown, a small group of people have also been demonstrating in front of the City Council. They have been there since 23rd August to complain that their employer, who was subcontracted by the council to provide cleaning services, hasn’t paid their salaries. In fact, they have been fired but the company they worked for as cleaners still owes them thousands of euros in salaries they never paid. Sadly this has become very common in Spain. You can save money if you don't pay people for their work, and there have been several demonstrations about the same issue in front of Guadalajara’s City Council. In order to highlight the seriousness of their situation and maybe in an attempt to be more effective in getting a solution to their demands than previous demonstrators have been, they have decided to on hunger strike. But the Mayor and his staff say they should go and complain somewhere else. It’s not their problem, they say, if this businessman that has received contracts worth millions of euros from the Council, doesn’t pay his workers. They say, if his workers have any problems with him they should take it up with the courts of justice.

The local press, many of this person’s ex-workers and the main opposition party say this businessman owes money to the Tax Office, the National Security Office and many of his workers, to whom he gave illegal or no working contracts.

But the Mayor feels that’s not his problem. It’s not his problem that citizens he’s supposed to govern for are being abused and it’s not his problem that he’s using taxpayers’ money to fund a private enterprise that seems to thrive on illegal practices...

I would like to see a day when we could go to the City Council in Guadalajara to talk about fig trees and be listened to. It seems like a long way away...